The recent Tiger Woods crisis showed the world how brands and athletes are tightly linked. While Accenture, Gatorade, AT&T dropped the golfer, other brands such as Gillette and Procter and Gamble, have significantly dimmed down their use of Tiger in advertising campaigns. EA Sports played differently as Tiger shared his PGA Tour 2011 video game cover for the first time in 13 years. On the other hand, Nike stood by his athlete and aired an interesting, yet controversial advertsing campaign.
Athletes are the icons of sports brands. The Tiger Woods case showed us that it can be a double edged sword. I reckon the most famous football marketing icons would be David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane & Lionel Messi among others for adidas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney & Didier Drogba (among others) for Nike. Eto’o being the Puma icon for some years now.
It’s not an easy task to link a player to a brand. It is a long way process. Brands have a very well thought scouting system, and know talented young players before they get under mediatic spotlights. Sponsorship deals are being made, with parents agreement, and the kid grows up with the brand throughout his career. For those who saw the U-19 final where France deafeated Spain 2-1, all these youngsters were (already) wearing either adidas, Nike or Puma footwear. Obviously, these brands did not come up yesterday to add these players to their portfolio.
Gael Kakuta, the Chelsea player, Alexandre Lacazette the Olympique Lyonnais striker and Cédric Bakambu are the perfect examples. Three upcoming french stars, the first one wears the Superfly Vapour II, the OL player strikes with the adidas adizero F50 and Bakambu scored 2 goals against The Netherlands with his Pumas.
The “big three” are in constant look for the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Once players are contracted by either one the three (adidas, Nike, Puma) it is difficult for the other two to step in. In other words, I don’t see Nike approaching Xavi nor adidas willing to sign Didier Drogba. Not only the Spaniard and the Ivory Coast player are already strongly “stamped” by their current sponsor but it will be a very costly deal if it gets through. Secondly I would like to think that the sponsors would rather invest in signing new young players with this amount of cash.
Brands link their image (and vice versa) to footballers from a very early age and this is a long term investment which will pay off when these talented players will lift a World Cup or Champions League trophy. In the meantime, they would have encapsulated their sponsors brand image and values. They would have represented the brand throughout their career. For instance, Zidane & Beckham will always be associated with the adidas brand and ultimately with the Predator boot. Recently, we have seen Nike’s effort to market Cristiano Ronaldo with the Mercurial Vapor Superfly II and Rooney with the T90 Laser III.
Happy to hear your thoughts!